H&L Agro sees uptick in sales during COVID-19

H&L Agro sees uptick in sales during COVID-19

BY KELLARAY MILES
Business reporter
milesk@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

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WHOLESALE and retail distributor of agricultural products, H&L Agro — a subsidiary of Hardware and Lumber (H&L) Limited — says the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an increase in the sale of farm, garden and other agricultural inputs.

According to Olive Downer Walsh, deputy chief executive officer at H&L Agro who also manages the affairs of the company's five H&L Agro stores, one of the advantages emanating from the onset of the pandemic is the need for people to ensure food security. As such, the company ensured that there was adequate supply to meet the growing demand for products and tools.

She said that with the tourism sector, one of the company's main customers, having taken a hard hit from the pandemic, H&L Agro had to find new ways of getting its products out and boosting sales.

“What we have done was to change the way in which we operate. We utilised the social media platforms to get messages out to our farmers. Through the work of our people on the ground we were able to educate and inform people and to inspire production. [As a result] what we have seen is an increase in the demand for inputs from the backyard gardener, the enthusiast, and the traditional farmers. We have also had a summer which was favourable for agriculture, resulting in good weather for production,” Downer Walsh said.

“Despite COVID we were able to remain in a strong position, as we were able to respond to the demands for inputs by the sector,” she shared during a Jamaica Observer Business Forum last week.

Downer Walsh further said the “Tan a yuh yard” message championed by the Government also helped to drive increased sales, particularly in the areas of gardening and lawn care as people moved to undertake more home improvement projects.

“Because people have gotten the chance to be home more often [due to enforced work-from-home and quarantine orders], they have been doing more to have their surroundings upgraded, refreshed and more comfortable,” she said.

“Persons are refreshing their lawns and are also equally buying pumpkin, vegetables, and tomato seeds. As a result, we have seen where agriculture continues to become more responsive,” Downer Walsh further told the Business Observer, while noting that her company is a leader in the supply of pesticides and vegetable seeds which, she said, drives the bulk of inputs for the business.

Recounting a reduction in activities at the Portmore store, where sales fell flat during a brief period of closure as a result of the lockdown of St Catherine in April, Downer Walsh said the store was able to rebound quickly following its reopening after the restriction was lifted.

Marcus Richards, managing director of H&L, in outlining the 92-year-old company's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, said that due to the trading nature of the business, the effects of the pandemic – unlike the experience of many other entities – came from as early as December. He, however, said that the company was able to navigate the challenges through a process of galvanisation, reorganisation and reinvention.

“We did what we do best, we repositioned the business to be more nimble and responsive, all of which have worked to our benefit,” he told the Business Observer.

Richards said he was proud to have been able to keep the business going, retain the compliment of 600 direct and indirect employees across all stores and, also to be in current pursuit of new hires.

“When it comes to sales I would say that our business continues to perform, and it performs in a way that, for me, this year [has been] most important. For me, this has really been a year of survival — a year where it is most important to keep the [business] intact,” he said. “The businesses that we are in doesn't change fundamentally decade over decade, what changes is how we do business and who we do it with.”


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